Former jockey Pat Smullen not only leaves behind a stellar racing legacy, but fundraising initiatives that raised millions for research into pancreatic cancer, the disease that claimed his life.
The 43-year-old died at St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin on Tuesday after a diagnosis in 2018 that forced him to retire from the saddle a year later.
The nine-times Irish champion Flat jockey, survived by his wife Frances and children Hannah, Paddy and Sarah, gave an insight into his glass-half-full attitude to life in an interview with RTÉ Sport a year ago.
"Sure life is full of setbacks, you just have to deal with it," he told Brian Gleeson.
"You have to face it, what else do you do? Lie down and give up? You can't do that."
"It's not about me, it's about raising awareness about pancreatic cancer and vital funds for the research and trials needed."
The organisation have today written to his bereaved family, outlining the tangible benefits that will be derived from that charitable work.
Letter to the Smullen family from Cancer Trials Ireland
It is with a very heavy heart that, on behalf of the staff and members of Cancer Trials Ireland, we put pen to paper in remembrance of our friend, and benefactor, Pat Smullen.
Pat was a friend like no other. Almost a year ago to the day, Pat and his supporters raised a game-changing €2.6m for pancreatic cancer clinical trials. We would like to put this into context for you – just how dramatic and unusual this degree of fundraising is.
Earlier this year, Comic Relief reached out to the entire country and raised almost €6m with the help of a host of celebs across several hours of primetime TV. Pat Smullen and the horse racing community raised almost half that - €2.6m – for pancreatic cancer clinical trials alone. People diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in Ireland will feel the benefit of it for years, if not decades, to come.
The low incidence of pancreatic cancer (around 560 people diagnosed in Ireland each year), the fact that it is not usually diagnosed early, and the relative difficulty of treating the disease effectively with the usual tools (chemotherapy, radiotherapy) make for a challenging, sparse research environment. But as a direct result of the funds Pat helped raise, Cancer Trials Ireland received nine research proposals this year. Three studies are now being advanced or explored, one of which will open in Ireland in a matter of weeks.
That is the work Pat has enabled us to do. But that is not all that Pat did for Cancer Trials Ireland. Last November, he helped us to raise more than €120,000 for ovarian and prostate cancer trials. Earlier this year, he gave us the go ahead to fund a Next Generation Sequencing machine (€100,000) for St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin. This machine will allow doctors to genetically sequence pancreatic cancer tumours, and other tumours, potentially opening up treatment options for thousands of people with all types of cancer. On a more personal level, Pat continually made himself available for interviews, photo calls, and phone calls - anything that might help people in a situation similar to his own.
It is a mark of the man that he had such a wide-ranging generosity. Pat’s popularity – and humility – was and is legendary. It was truly remarkable, and inspiring, to see that these qualities can coexist with the drive and determination it takes to reach the very top of his demanding sport. Our thoughts, today and always, are with the Pat’s wife Frances, his children Hannah, Paddy and Sarah, and his wider family.
Clinical trials offer patients very real, tangible, important benefits – but they can also provide something as vital as it is intangible: Hope. That is Pat’s real gift to the people who come after him, who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
The outpouring of love and support his efforts have generated give hope to us all.
Thank you, Pat.